Make Ahead

Vanilice (The Little Vanilla Cookies)

October 23, 2012
5 Stars
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

Every family has a heirloom. A jewel, a story, a secret... I have a book of recipes, compiled by my grandmothers and great-aunts and carefully perfected and written down by my mom. When I decided to cross the ocean forever I took the book with me. Nothing in the book is really a secret. We were never of a non-sharing kind. The food is to be enjoyed by everyone. The process of making the special foods is to be enjoyed by everyone. Happiness is to be shared. And one of the happiest and most treasured of our recipes is Vanilice. Vanilice (pronounced vah-ny-ly-tseh) are tiny Serbian cookies made for holidays and special occasions. Vanilice (which means “little vanillas”) are bite-sized walnut cookie sandwiches with jam and vanilla-scented powdered sugar. Vanilice hold such a special place in the Serbian cuisine and tradition that in good old days every self-respecting lady of the house was expected to make a very special jam, usually rose hip or apricot, to be used for Vanilice. There are many variations of the Vanilice recipe. Thousands of them. My grand-aunt Cica was the creator of our family's version; she was so proud of it that until the day she died, she supervised every family member in the process of making Vanilice. Including my grandmother.

P.S. Before you go to work, a couple of important things: 1) You must get the best quality lard, 2) you must be patient and let Vanilice sit in a cool dark place for at least one or two days before serving—not in the fridge, and 3) you must use good quality firm jam—unless you want your Vanilice running all over the place. Too many musts, but it will be worth it. —QueenSashy

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: QueenSashy is a scientist and blogger who keeps her family's Eastern European recipes alive.
WHAT: Dainty sandwich cookies with a rich taste and a rich history.
HOW: Make tiny, tender cookies with ground walnuts and rendered lard, then use them to sandwich a dot of bright jam and roll it all in vanilla sugar.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Find leaf lard at your farmers' market or butcher shop—these little cookies are worth the effort to find it and render it down. These Vanilice are beautiful and delicate, crumbling into a tart finish of jam. While you can taste every ingredient on its own, they all come together for a very special holiday cookie. —The Editors

  • Makes about 60 cookies
Ingredients
  • 200 grams confectioners' sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 300 grams lard (ideally leaf lard)
  • 250 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 250 grams ground walnuts
  • 600 grams all-purpose flour
  • Rose hip or apricot jam
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. A couple of days before making the cookies, mix the confectioners' sugar with the vanilla bean in a small bowl with a tight lid. This is your vanilla sugar. Store in a dry place.
  2. In a mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the lard with the granulated sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg, egg yolks, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add the walnuts and flour and beat until a uniform dough forms. Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven to 325° F convection bake (or 350° regular bake). Place the dough on a work surface dusted with flour and roll it out to a 1/4-inch-thick round. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small round cookie cutter (I use 1-inch or quarter-size cutters), stamp out the cookies and arrange them one inch apart on the baking sheets.
  4. Bake for about 12 minutes, so that the rounds remain white. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack or flat surface to cool completely.
  5. Once the cookies are cool, take one cookie round at a time, spread the jam on it, and top with another cookie round.
  6. Roll each cookie sandwich generously in the vanilla sugar. Put the cookies into a tin box, and wait for one to two days before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Nevena Petrovic
    Nevena Petrovic
  • Julia
    Julia
  • sexyLAMBCHOPx
    sexyLAMBCHOPx
  • Jeannine Doyle
    Jeannine Doyle
  • Annie stader
    Annie stader
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.

63 Reviews

keksic December 23, 2019
Another question...this part of the recipe:
"In a mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the lard with the granulated sugar until creamy."
I don't have this tool; only a regular mixer. I'm guessing I can't use the whisk-style with lard & sugar, correct? Is it the same process as creaming butter and sugar (using a wooden spoon)?
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 23, 2019
Yes, it is the same.
 
catmwi December 12, 2019
I made these last night. While the cookies are still kept hidden for another day, I've eaten few (oops, can't help!). The subtle hint of lemon, vanilla and the jam make a very lovely combo.

I halved the recipe, and ended up with 60 sandwiches, 1" in size, I rolled them just about or slightly less than 1/4" thick. Two things I did differently: unsalted butter instead of lard and almond meal (from bulk section of grocery store) instead of walnut. I used one egg, as suggested in comment below. Filled half the batch with apricot, and the rest with raspberry rose jam.

This recipe looks like a lot of work, but if you split the work, it's totally do-able! I measured the ingredients the night before, mixed the dough in the morning, rest it in the fridge, then roll/bake the cookies after work. So worth it. I'd love to bake this again with the right ingredients to honour this recipe. Thanks for sharing, QueenSashy.
 
keksic December 2, 2019
This is so embarrassing to admit, but this would be the first time that I'm actually baking any sort of cookie (how dare I call myself a Serbian woman, haha), so I'm not sure if I picked the right recipe to dip my toes in the water! Would regular shortening (i.e. Crisco, or Tenderflake here in Canada) work? I reeeeallllly want to make these so badly (obozavam vanilice inace), but I'm a little hesitant after reading some of the other comments about the huge quantities yielded. This is probably a stupid question, but how can you tell when a dough is rolled to 1/4''? I have a regular rolling pin, but I really have no idea how to tell optimum dough "thickness" (aside from taking a measuring stick). I'm at least able to buy vanilin secer here (the little packet), so I guess that's my one saving grace...or should I just abandon ship now?? :)
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 2, 2019
Hi keksic, you can halve the recipe, but still use one whole egg in the dough. I have not tried making these cookies with shortening, but perhaps you could ask the question here on the hotline, and someone might be able to come in with an answer. I like to use a plastic ruler when I bake and roll out cookies to get the thickness that I want, but 1/4" is close to the thickness of a pencil, maybe a tiny bit less. Regarding vanilla, you can also put vanilla extract into the dough instead the vanilla bean into powder sugar, and it will still have the same effect. Hope this helps, happy baking.
 
Food September 16, 2019
Has anyone tried this delicious sounding recipe with almond flour (ground almonds)? I understand the flavor would be different from walnuts, but I have a big Costco bag of almond flour and would like to use it up. Thanks!
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy September 16, 2019
I made the cookies before with pistachios and several people on the site reported making them with pecans, so there is no reason it should not work. You can change the jam too, and take the one you think would best complement the almond flavor.
 
Food September 16, 2019
Pistachios sound tasty! So do pecans! Thank you so much for replying. I'll try the almond flour out :)
 
Chloroph December 24, 2018
Help! I can't find vanilla bean in my town and I want to make these tonight. Is there a workaround you would suggest?
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 24, 2018
Yes. Do you have vanilla extract? You can skip adding vanilla to the sugar, instead, add a teaspoon or two of the vanilla extract to the dough (at the same time you are adding eggs). That will do it. Happy baking.
 
Chloroph December 25, 2018
Yes I do! Thank you so much for this advice! Cant wait to get started!!
 
Nyasha January 26, 2017
I made these this year for my annual christmas cookie boxes, and they were my personal favorite. So delicate and short. Mmm! I used passionfruit jam (heated with a bit of gelatin to thicken it up - as it was quite runny out of the jar), and they were just phenomenal. Also...ran out of walnuts, so ended up using pecans for the other half of the called for nuts. Can't wait to try this again next year with only walnuts and a new jam! Thank you for sharing this gem. <3
 
Yianna December 10, 2016
Hello! I was wondering whether these cookies would keep well, if I do not dust them with sugar? Thanks very much for sharing your recipe!
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 10, 2016
Hi Yianna, yes, they keep well. I think you can go both ways. I usually dust the ones that will stay longer lightly, and then "re-dust" them before serving. But I think that either way should be fine.
 
Adriana A. December 22, 2015
will replacing regular egg yolk with hard-boiled seived egg yolk yield better texture or flavor?
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 22, 2015
Adriana, I am not sure. These are the cookies I grew up with and it never occurred to me to change the recipe. Perhaps someone from the community can chime in...
 
Nevena P. December 21, 2015
E ovo je stvarno za ponos :) Cijela Srbija prica o pobjedi vanilica :) Svaka cast na pobjedi i stvarno je divno vidjeti kako dio nase kuhinje i tradicije dopire i do ostatka svijeta. Zelim ti puno uspjeha u nekim daljim takmicenjima, i veliki pozdrav iz Novog Sada!
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 22, 2015
Hvala :)
 
Julia December 10, 2015
How long do these cookies last at room temperature once baked? Would freezing them or putting them in the fridge preserve them for longer? Also does this yield 60 sandwiches or 60 cookie halves (and therefore 30 sandwiches)? Thanks!!
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 11, 2015
Julia, it's 60 sandwiches. I would say definitely a couple of days to a week (but you might have to dust them again with powder sugar as the dusting tends to attract humidity). After a couple of days I usually put them in the fridge and then take out about two hours before serving.
 
Jessica K. December 13, 2015
I made this recipe to the letter - weighed all ingredients in grams (as is my usual habit), used lard, rolled out precisely to 1/4" (using a rolling pin specifically designed for rolling to 1/4"), and used an almost exactly 1" round cutter (actually a hair larger because they are metric),. The finished baked cookies when measured are maybe 1.1" in diameter and almost exactly 1/4" thick - and I ended up with *300* of them (i.e., 150 sandwiches, though I haven't filled them yet). I don't really mind, but I am not quite sure how my results could have ended up so far off those specified - though I did re-roll the scraps, which the recipe did not explicitly call for.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 13, 2015
Jessica, I will be making them in a couple of days, will do the recount and will report back.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 22, 2015
Hi Jessica, I just made my holiday batch of vanilice. I rolled the dough slightly thicker to about 3/8"" and used a 1.5" diameter cookie cutter. I also re-rolled the scraps. I had 140 cookies (i.e. 70 sandwiches).
 
Zeljko S. December 23, 2015
Julia this is a part of so called slow food. It isn't intended to be frozen or to use some artificial ingredients as someone is suggesting in order to get more from less. The philosophy of a good food is "Less is enough".
 
Nan December 5, 2015
I found lard but not leaf lard is that okay
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 5, 2015
Yes, absolutely...
 
Nan December 2, 2015
I would love to make this recipe but with butter, will the cookies still have the same taste & texture
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy December 2, 2015
Nan, taste wise, the cookies made with lard and butter will be close to same. I've made both many times, and they are both yummy. I like lard cookies better, because they are a bit richer, crispier and crumblier. But again, butter ones are not bad either, it's a matter of gray levels and I think that if you make them you will not regret it :)
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx November 30, 2015
Congrats on your win!
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy November 30, 2015
Thank you!
 
Maria November 26, 2015
They look so hard to make, Since I Don't Bake, But I sure want to try them for this Christmas Time. I know I can do them..happy thanksgiving 2015,
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy November 26, 2015
Maria, yes you can bake :) I say go for it... Have a wonderful holiday!
 
Jeannine D. November 23, 2015
Quarters are pretty small
 
Jeannine D. November 23, 2015
Thx Annie, I guess I could use a shot glass as a cutter. That was my issue, I didn't think I had anything that small
 
Annie S. November 23, 2015
I have a comment about the size of these cookies. I am not sure they can be made larger. They are so tender and work well as a "bite". I think they would just crumble when you would eat them. Also they are very rich. This is just my opinion from making them and eating them ( so addictive!) all week.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy November 23, 2015
Annie -- you are spot on. They are usually made to be bite sized, because of the richness.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy November 23, 2015
... and thanks for pointing it out.
 
Jeannine D. November 23, 2015
I was thinking of making them larger, about 3" diameter. How long would I cook them?
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy November 23, 2015
I have not made them in 3 inches before. This is just a guess, but I would say start paying attention at about 14 minutes. The cookies should be pale, once you notice that they are about to start developing color, especially around the edges it is time to take them out.
 
anka November 22, 2015
Congratulations for being the finalist.
 
PistachioDoughnut November 22, 2015
I so wanted to test these out but because it had lard in it which being a vegetarian i do not consume, so I could not try it. But, I am going to replace it with regular fat and try it. Congrats for being the finalist. They look really good. I can't wait to try it with fig jam that I bought from Greece.
 
Author Comment
QueenSashy November 22, 2015
Thank you... Yes, you can definitely do that, I make them often with butter for my vegetarian friends. Love the idea of fig jam!